Reading through the book of Revelation can be confusing for the most well studied theologians. There is a lot of imagery that is possibly literal or possibly figurative. One thing that we find is what amounts to an unholy trinity of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.
While these forces of evil may be confused for one another in their function, they appear to be separate people or forces. Revelation 16:13 makes a distinction between all three.
Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet.
The dragon is clearly identified for us in Revelation 20:2; it is Satan. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
The dragon first appears in Revelation 12 in what seems to be a spiritual look at history rather than a prophetic look at the future. Revelation 12:4 shows a third of the stars being swept out of the sky by the dragon – a reference to a third of the angels falling along with Satan.
The rest of the chapter depicts Satan’s attempt to destroy Jesus from His birth and then Satan’s war against all of the followers of Jesus.
Revelation 13 introduces us to two beasts. The first is called the beast out of the sea. A comparison of Revelation 13 and Daniel 7 show that this is the same beast. Comparing what is said about this beast with other descriptions of the Antichrist, it is clear that the beast out of the sea is in fact the Antichrist.
From Revelation 13 we learn that the beast “seemed to have had a fatal wound.” This false Messiah will appear to have been resurrected from the dead. It is unlikely that he truly died and came back to life however. Satan is a deceiver and while he may be able to deceive people into believing the beast died and came back to life, he is still a created being and does not hold power over life and death.
The beast will rule on earth and he will be worshipped but he will also direct worship toward Satan. While it seems unlikely that Satan will have physical form, people will recognize that the Antichrist’s power comes from him and they will worship both the dragon and the beast because of this.
The second beast in Revelation 13 is the beast of the earth. This second beast will essentially be the public relations specialist for the antichrist. While Revelation 13 does not refer to him as such, the description of his duties makes it fairly clear that the second beast is the false prophet.
The false prophet is not a ruler like the antichrist nor will he seek to be worshipped like the dragon and the beast. Instead, like the Holy Spirit, he will work mostly behind the scenes, directing worship toward Satan and the Antichrist. The false prophet will perform miracles on behalf of the Antichrist in order to delude the people further.
It is actually the false prophet who forces people to receive “the mark of the beast” in order to buy or sell in the kingdom of the Antichrist.
The end of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet
The beast and the false prophet, with the help of the dragon, will gather together the armies of the world in preparation for the coming of Christ. They will gather the armies together in a vain attempt to make war against the armies of heaven. It will be a futile attempt that will result in the destruction of the beast and the false prophet. Revelation 19:19-20 records their demise.
19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.
Satan will survive a while longer but he will be fully defeated after being held captive for a thousand years. Revelation 20:1-3:
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
During the Millennial Kingdom Satan will be bound and he will not be able to lead mankind astray. During that time no one will be able to say “the devil made me do it.” Instead mankind will only be able to blame their own sinful nature for their faults.
At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be let loose and will gather the sinful people of the Millennial Kingdom to himself. He will launch one final futile attack against God’s people. It will result in his ultimate destruction according to Revelation 20:7-10.
7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. 9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
While Satan may receive the worship he has long desired for a short time, it will lead to his doom. While all but a few will be deceived by Satan he will be shown to be powerless. He will not be able to stop any of the judgments that God inflict upon the earth during the tribulation. And he will be completely powerless to stop Christ from returning with the armies of heaven. No matter how dire the situation looks on earth, the end is secure. Christ will come victoriously and the Lord will reign forever and ever.